Short, Fat, and Stylish: A Fashion Guide for Plus-Size Petite Women
Petite-Plus: The Overlooked Size
There seems to be a belief that "petite" is synonymous with "elfin," that petite women are tiny, graceful creatures who float delicately on a sea of petals and have waists the size of an average woman's neck. Not true. While some such women do exist, there are just as many (if not more) who are petite-plus: at least average in width and less-than-average in height.
While the media is delighted to fuss over the existence of so-called plus-size models, the plight of the short is totally ignored. Worried you don't get to see models who are a normal size? Forget about width, that's bad enough. Let me tell you about height.
A "short" model is 5' 9". Honestly. That's at least 8 inches taller than a petite-sized woman, and those extra inches alter the way any outfit looks, not a little but completely. Have you ever tried on a wedding dress and found yourself standing on a small dais which allows the dress, which is too long, to fall to the floor? I bet you looked great, but of course that's not how you would look if you wore that dress on your wedding day because the ratio of width to height would be completely different with two feet on the floor.
What our culture perceives as elegant is a silhouette where the height is several times the width. Take a look at any fashion illustration you've ever seen. Take a look at a Barbie doll, where the length of the leg is way above normal in comparison to the other measurements. To achieve that elegant ratio of width to height, short women need to use every visual illusion they can.
Monochromatic Colors and Vertical Lines
The longer the single blocks of color are, the taller you will appear. A blouse and pants for example will make you look short unless...
1. The blouse is the same color as the pants, and
2. There is no obvious horizontal line between them.
The ideal outfit for the plus-size petite woman is mostly one color, with a contrast at the narrowest point (usually the neck). The contrasting splash of color at the neck will allow the eye to follow a long, unbroken monochromatic line from feet to neck. This means that maxi skirts and dresses have the potential to make you look slimmer than conventional skirts will. Jackets can provide a great contrast and look good over matching blouse and pants (especially when left open to show the blouse which becomes, visually, a narrow strip of lighter colored fabric) but if they don't match the pants, the lower edge will form a horizontal line, breaking the line and spoiling the illusion of height.
One solution is to wear pants, top, and jacket all to match, or use cleverly-shaped jackets like waterfall jackets which hang in soft folds without one solid horizontal border.
Dresses for Plus-Size Petites
When it comes to evening wear, the shorter woman can shine in a full-length gown, but even here the illusion can be improved by the use of the right neckline. A V neck creates an illusion of length and can be very flattering, whereas a square neck emphasizes width and is unlikely to look as good. A high neck can allow a longer visual line, as well, although a little skin at the neckline always looks good, too.
When choosing a dress, remember that solid colors and vertical lines will work with your shape. If you've got the legs for it, don't be afraid of a slit at the side of the dress (which offers a vertical line of skin, after all).
Plus-Size Petite Sleepwear
Nightgowns, pajamas, and robes are just as important—there is no better way to end the day than in a beautiful, sensual silk nightgown that fits, but finding one is often difficult for small women who know that "full length" is a relative term. The best solution is to either use a made-to-measure service (shop at a store that will pre-tailor items to fit you) or alter the item yourself. If you choose the latter, remember that designs with a lace edge are easy to tailor; by simply cutting off the lace, you'll be able to reduce the nightgown to the right length. "Short" nightgowns tend to fall to the knee on petite women, so it is important to look carefully at the design. If its primary purpose is to show off your legs, forget it and go for something designed to show off your face or shoulders instead.
Although short, plus-size women are not generally used as models in any part of the fashion industry, this doesn't mean they can't look good. Simply by paying attention to the creation of the right visual illusion, you can look just as good as anyone else, however tall you are.
Customizing Plus-Size Clothing for Petites
Questions & Answers
What kind of clothing helps keep short heavy ladies cool during hot summer days?
This is a difficult one. Obviously, the fabric you wear makes a big difference; natural fabrics don't make you sweat quite so much as artificial fibers, but cotton, for example, is not the most practical of summer fabrics. Cotton wrinkles up in your suitcase and needs to be ironed. Who wants to do that when they are already too hot? Fabrics like cotton have no stretch, and that's another reason cotton garments are not always as comfortable as their artificial equivalents.
For short heavy ladies, the problem is often that we tend to 'glow' a lot. Let's not pretend. We sweat. We turn red. It's all rather unpleasant. I often suffer from heat rash if I'm not careful, so what's my solution?
As always, I dress in layers and loose clothing; I like to stay comfortable. If you don't like exposing your arms, a loose kimono type jacket is ideal, especially in a very light fabric like printed polyester chiffon. (Try Torrid.com, for example) Otherwise look for a wide chiffon shawl or ruana; even a pashmina is ideal for summer. If you suffer from chafing, you may find trousers (pants) more friendly than skirts and check to see if your deodorant is just a deodorant or also an antiperspirant. I find spray body oil indispensable in the warm months (as long as it's non-greasy) as it helps to stop heat rash (I get mine from Etsy in some fabulous fragrances), and I spray it on all over before getting dressed. If you suffer from heat rash, you might like to get a good thick body lotion and add some lavender oil which is great for removing inflammation. I stick to basics, trousers or pants with a T-shirt (try daily rituals on Amazon) in the same color as they can make me look as tall as I can be (I'm only 5' or 1.5m). I add this to something more colorful but thin (pashmina/wrap/ruana/kimono) thrown over the top. On holiday I might wear a long dress in the evening, put more/some makeup on and add some jewelry, but that's about it. If I'm honest, I avoid all those 'cool' fabrics we're told to wear in summer because I hate looking creased and I don't intend to spend my vacation ironing.
So why are all of the clothes I saw being modeled by tall, thin women? Really?
Thin women are easier to dress, it's just that simple. When something is almost flat, it's easier to make a garment fit, curves are more difficult, that's why you so often see the designers on TV (Project Runway, for example) throw up their hands in horror when they are asked to fit a dress on a plus sized woman. Instead of being mostly flat, she goes in and out.
Another reason is that you need more fabric to make plus size clothes. Fabrics come in fixed widths and the results is that the length of a garment doesn't matter much if you're looking at cost, what does matter is the width. As size 5X can easily take twice the fabric of a small, for example.
The third reason is that most designers rely on basic patterns which have been created for the standard sizes. Those patterns just don't exist forf the larger sizes, so to cater to plus sized petites they would have to make a pattern from scratch, and the last reason is that many believe clothes look better when the proportion of the top to the bottom is similar to that on a 5'10 plus woman.
Having said all that, I think you'll find plus size models are becoming a lot more popular, however I can't recall having seen any who are plus size petite, and that's something I'm looking forward to.